IBM VS. JAPAN: The Struggle for the Future by Robert Sobel

IBM VS. JAPAN: The Struggle for the Future

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Japan, Inc., is overmatched in its competition with IBM for global leadership in information processing (expected to be a trillion-dollar business by decade's end), according to Sobel's persuasive status report. In fact, he argues Japan will have difficulty undermining Big Blue's dominant position in its own backyard. Sobel (Car Wars, The Worldly Economists) starts with an overview of the fast-moving EDP industry (some recycled from his 1981 book, IBM: Colossus in Transition). In addition to detailing the conquest of also-ran rivals in offshore as well as domestic outlets, he details the company's lengthy and eventually successful antitrust battle. IBM does not win 'em all, but it recovers well, as Sobel makes clear in his account of the catch-up campaign that had to be launched when corporate planners failed to appreciate the potential of the personal computer. Also instructive is the author's rundown on the evolution of mainframe technology, from the bulky first-generation machines through today's ultrafast models which incorporate arrays of microprocessors. Sobel's knowledgeable commentary on circuitry advances provides valuable perspectives on the state-of-the-art--in particular, the announced retention of the Japanese to leapfrog directly to fifth-generation systems with artificial-intelligence capacities. Despite generous funding and government assistance, he doubts companies like Fujitsu and Hitachi will attain their goal, in part because much of the important R&D has already been done at American universities with which IBM has close ties. The tactics which served Japanese manufacturers of consumer goods so well will not help their counterparts overcome Big Blue's long lead. Among other problems, IBM has made price-cutting a fact of life in the computer business; consequently, it's all but impossible for copycat sources to buy and hold market share for their so-called plug-compatible machines. In the meantime, Sobel points out, IBM has shown itself to be a remarkably adaptive enterprise. The company has, for example, made acquisitions and formed alliances that secure its supply lines and afford ground-floor access to high-growth markets. Without underrating the Japanese challenge, Sobel makes a convincing case for IBM's ability to meet it--on any number of fronts.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1985
Publisher: Stein & Day